New alpine ranger program for county
By Heather Sackett
Published: Friday, May 2, 2014 6:07 AM CDT
San Miguel County plans to enter into an alpine ranger program with San Juan and Hinsdale counties to make sure local ordinances are enforced on high mountain passes.
The county had previously had an agreement with Ouray County where their ranger (from the U.S. Forest Service) would patrol San Miguel County as well. But because the two counties followed different sets of regulations for the operation of off-highway vehicles, it caused concern for commissioners.
San Miguel, along with Hinsdale and San Juan counties, have local ordinances that impose strict regulations on OHV use, including that operators must have a valid driver’s license. But Colorado state law says kids as young as 10 years old can operate OHVs as long as they are under the supervision of someone with a valid driver’s license. Ouray County has the same rules as the state when it comes to this issue.
The alpine ranger could not enforce San Miguel County’s regulations because they conflicted with state regulations. Plus, the county was paying $8,000 for the program while only getting about 20 percent of the ranger’s time.
None of that sat well with San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes.
“Why have a ranger if they aren’t going to enforce our regulations?” Goodtimes said.
He also worries about the safety of OHV operators on county roads. Last summer, two kids in two separate incidents — a 14 year old in Ouray County and a 10 year old in San Juan County — died when they crashed while operating all-terrain vehicles.
“On these high alpine tracks where a small second indecision can lead to a catastrophic event … it seems absolutely insane to continue to allow young children to drive these vehicles,” Goodtimes said. “It’s a crazy situation and we are hoping there will be some state law changes.”
Under the new three-county memorandum of understanding, which has yet to be finalized, the ranger will enforce local ordinances as well as the state ordinance that all OHVs have a state permit. According to the proposal, the program is scheduled to begin on Memorial Day weekend and run until mid-September. The ranger would develop a route that generally begins in Hinsdale County and focuses on Engineer, Cinnamon, Ophir, Imogene and Black Bear passes. The ranger would work four 10-hour days.
The alpine ranger is Tom Reyburn, who lives in Hinsdale County. He would focus on educating the public, instead of issuing tickets for violations. The goal is to help visitors to the area understand rough high-mountain driving and distribute brochures that outline local ordinances.
“The ticket part of it has moved to the background,” said San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay. “Now he assists the Jeep tour operators with mechanical problems or emergency medical situations … He’s just there to see that everything is running smoothly.”
The alpine ranger program would be for a one-year trial period, with the three counties meeting to discuss the program at the end of the 2014 season. The program is expected to cost $23,306, with San Miguel County contributing $8,000. Reyburn is an employee of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department, but will split his time between all three counties.
Goodtimes hopes the new alpine ranger agreement will help clear up misunderstandings about county OHV regulations.
“People are certainly willing to conform if they know the rules,” Goodtimes said. “You’ve got a confusing landscape to OHV users, particularly from out of state.”